The innovation journey of Fastbrick Robotics (FBR) demonstrates the value of a 'growth through innovation' mindset and the importance of strong leadership and governance in driving innovation.
In 1993, Mark Pivac came up with a concept to automate time-consuming processes in the marine and mining industries. At the time, the global market was too small to justify the expense of commercialising the technology. Its potential was recognised in 2005 when, amid a building boom in WA, a customer suggested building an automated brick laying machine based on a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine.
Bringing such an innovative product to market has proved challenging. FBR experienced significant difficulties in raising capital at various points on its innovation journey. By 2008 FBR had built a prototype however, its investor launch coincided with the global financial crisis. It was unsuccessful in obtaining venture capital and failed to gain entry to the ASX due to its size.
Although work continued, it slowed significantly and staff numbers were reduced. Those involved continued to scope opportunities to accelerate the innovation through investment and this positioned FBR to take advantage of a reverse takeover opportunity during a mining and resources slump in 2015. This made it easier to gain entry to the ASX.
With ASX entry, FBR was able to increase investment, build stronger governance and rapidly accelerate its innovative business. The key technology, called Dynamic Stabilisation Technology (DST), facilitates complete automation of the brick-laying process over large outdoor spaces. FBR has now formed a partnership with the world’s largest brick manufacturer and has a prototype of its signature technology.
FBR could not have undertaken its innovation journey without an initial government research and development grant. The company is pleased to now employ 120 staff.
Access to strong, professional governance support presented an intermittent barrier in FBR’s innovation journey. Although investors look to strong governance to inspire confidence, professional directors were financially out of reach for FBR in its infancy. FBR found that when it shifted from the development to the commercialisation phase, a different skillset was required of their board. FBR now allocates a significant portion of its annual budget to professional directors.
Lack of access to professional governance can hinder an innovative business’ capacity to raise capital, but professional directors can be prohibitively expensive.